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About this series
The Hope of Christmas
Hope has tremendous power - the power to heal, to help you keep going, and to inspire! 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel who needed hope: "For unto us, a child is born, unto us, a Son is given. The government will rest on His shoulders and He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The hope of that message was for them then, and it's for us today! In this series, Chip reminds us that Jesus is all those things. Those are titles God gave Him and titles He claimed. If you need hope, join Chip for these messages. You'll be comforted, encouraged, and inspired!More from this series
Look at the next verse. He says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” Do you get the picture? Here’s the earth. The heavens. It’s vertical. How high, how high – how many millions of miles…? The heavens! It’s certainly an idiom but it’s just higher than you can imagine or think, whatever level you think God loves you, it’s as high as the heavens are above the earth.
He loves like no one else! The people that no one would touch, the leper, He loves! The people that are an outcast, or prostitute, He loves! The woman caught in adultery, He loves! The tax collector who has betrayed his people and is ripping people off, He loves. The self-righteous Pharisee, He loves them too. And then He loves the marginalized, the people that the whole culture kicks to the side, the children, the prisoner, the widow – He loves them.
In fact, He even loves His enemies. The Roman soldiers that beat Him to a pulp and mocked Him. And here He is hanging on a cross and the religious leaders, “If You think You’re God, come on down!” And what does He do? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
As high as the heavens are above the earth, it’s how much God loves you. You’re the object of His affection. I don’t mean to be trite, but He is head over heels over you. He likes you. Some of you think He loves you, you just don’t think He likes you very much. He would like to hang out with you! He would like to talk. He would like to bless you. He would like to give you wisdom. He would like to intervene in powerful ways. He would just like to have coffee with you.
He loves you! He made you. He sent His Son to reveal what the Father is like. And not only does He love you as high as the heavens are above the earth, but as far as the east is from the west. He takes the vertical one and then He goes, Wait, let’s go horizontal. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your sins from you, to those that fear Him.”
By the way, there’s that little condition each time, right? You can do your own thing. You can stiff-arm God. You can say, I don’t need You. You can be the rich, young ruler and basically say, “Hey, look, you know what? What is going to make my life is my stuff and I am confident.” You can be the self-righteous Pharisee and say, “Look, I am going to keep the rules. I don’t need Your grace and You, God.”
Or you can just be passive. But for everyone who fears God, for everyone who says, Not my way, but Yours. Not my selfish kingdom, not what I think will deliver, but Your kingdom. I am going to seek it first and You first and You promise, because You love me so much, this is the greatest, wisest thing I’ll ever do.
I think sometimes we rank sins, don’t we? Probably theologically you know a sin separates us from God, but some sins – right? Have bigger consequences. And I think when we rank them, sometimes we think sexual sins, whoo. Those are bad, right? And they have some pretty heavy consequences. Or financial sins, right? He embezzled.
Or lying. I don’t know about you, but when people lie to me, it doesn’t take many times and you, Oh, wow, can’t trust them. When are they telling the truth? What…? Those are hard.
But I think this is – don’t go tell someone this is what the Bible says. Here’s what I think the worst sin is. This is the Chip Ingram commentary, okay? You have yours; I have mine.
I think betrayal is the worst sin. At least it’s the hardest to digest. Someone lies to you or they rip you off, money is money. Stuff comes; stuff goes. People lie. It’s the way it is. But when you are tight with someone, when you’ve got each other’s back, when you are loyal to one another. And whether that is in marriage or whether it’s your best friends, when you are betrayed, when they turn on you, when all the commitments you have made to one another and someone goes off and does something and they betray you, I don’t know about you, that has been the most difficult for me to ever forgive.
And, yet, as far as the east is from the west. We think of the anchor of the Church: Peter, John James – later, the apostle Paul. But remember when Peter betrayed the Lord? Remember? It was the night Jesus said, “This is what is going to happen.” Peter, “Oh, oh! Hey, these other guys. These other schmoes. They might not abandon You, but I’m here. I’m for You! I’ll die with You.” And everyone said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right. You’re right. Me too.” Right?
And Jesus said, “Peter, you don’t know your heart.” In fact, by the way, that’s a good lesson to know. You say, “I am totally committed. I would do…” You do not know your heart and you do not know what you would do until you’re tested. And that’s why God brings tests. He brings tests for your benefit, not His.
And He warned Peter, “Before you hear the rooster crow three times,” in front of this little gal near the fire and a couple other times, and then after he denied Him and he heard the rooster crow, he was out in the courtyard near the fire and Jesus was being examined and their eyes met. Whoo. It says he went out and wept bitterly.
If you have ever betrayed someone, if you have ever gossiped about someone, if you have done something and betrayed them and then had the amazing courage to go ask them for forgiveness and seen the tears run down their face, it’s like, Boy, I do not want to do that again.
When I sin, okay? Whether I sin in my thinking, whether I sin with my words or in my actions, when I sin, you know what I do? I betray my heavenly Father. I betray Him. I say, I don’t want Your kingdom. I don’t want Your will. I know better. The kingdom of Chip shows up and I’ve got it figured out and this is what I want and here’s how I am going to get it. I don’t want to listen to You.
Now, that old view of God is – right? He is way, way distant and there are all these rules. So, it becomes Christian behavior modification. And what that means is: try really hard not to sin. Don’t do this. Be relatively clean. Give a little money. Come to religious services and really try hard to be a little bit better morally than other people. But compare yourself with other people who are a little less moral than you, because you will stay in good standing.
And then when you break a rule, when you do what is wrong, when you lie, when you have a little comment, when you put people down, or when you do a big one, it’s like, “Oh, I’m really, really sorry. I broke a rule. I’m going to try really hard not to do, I’m not going to log on. I won’t drink that second or third glass of wine. I am going to…” You come up with your list. “I’m going to try really, really hard.”
And you can’t figure out why it doesn’t work. Because, see, when you break a rule, it’s just a thing. When you break someone’s heart, and you look into their eyes, there is something that happens inside where…
See, sin is always relational. It may be a thought or an act or a behavior, but it’s relational. And when I can get my sin breaks my Father’s heart, and if I believed He really loved me and I believed He cared and that He was gracious and He is compassionate and He is slow to anger, then, Oh, God, how could I do that?
The biggest changes, I will tell you, in my bad habits in my marriage journey have been times when my wife has used a little bit of a word picture and helped me see that this action that I don’t even know what it has got to do with our marriage is communicating to her that I don’t love her. And whether it was dealing with stuff at the house or whether it was being late all the time, I just tried harder.
When I looked her in the eye and she had tears to say, it was like, you know what? “If this means I love you, I’ll change my behavior, because I love you!” And, see, if you can understand how much God loves you and that it’s a relationship, it completely changes how you go about…
It’s not like, Oh, I have to read the Bible. It’s not like I go, Oh boy, good marriages, you’ve got to talk. Okay, let me, okay! Let’s see, I’ve got to give Theresa sixteen minutes this morning because this is really important. You’re supposed to go on dates, so I guess we ought to go out sometime, somewhere.
Can I tell you something? I just love to talk to her. I just love to go out on dates. I love to take walks. Because I love her! And probably why I love her, she loves me so much. I want to be with her. And that’s what God wants for us.
He goes on and he begins to give us the picture, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” Imagine God is distant. In fact, the scribes would say He’s in the seventh heaven. He is far, far away. He is transcendent. He is demanding. He is cold. You can’t get close.
And you have been following Jesus around for a while. And He is getting ripped by the religious leaders, “Hey, You’re hanging out with sinners!” And so, He tells them a parable to explain why He hangs out with sinners. And He said, “There was a sheep that was lost, there was a coin that was lost, and there was a son that was lost.” And He builds to a crescendo and He makes the point that all three of the stories have one, one main point.
And the one main point is that God is pictured here as a Father. A Father. And not just any father, not even a good, Jewish father. This is a Father who allows the son to go and bears the shame. This is a Father, when the kid comes to his senses in the pig pen and it says, “Okay, I am going to admit that I am wrong, I am going to own my stuff, and I am going to earn my way back,” he gives his little speech and before he can talk about earning his way back: “Stop!”
He absorbs the shame of the village instead of allowing his son. Then he says, “Son, put sandals on his feet.” Slaves, barefooted; sons, sandals. “Put a ring on his finger.” That’s his black American Express, MasterCard. You do business with the family. “Take the finest robe,” that’s his robe, “and cover him. Kill the fatted calf and we are going to celebrate!”
He says, “That’s what it’s like in heaven when one far away from God, sinner, returns.” That’s who you get greeted by. And that is a picture of God the Father that is completely foreign to the disciples. And, by the way, completely foreign to a lot of you.
He loves you. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion” – what? “on those who fear Him.” And then, I love, part of the reason is – why? “For He is mindful of our frame,” I love the next verse, “He is mindful of our frame.” In other words, our humanity, our constitution, what we are really made of.
That we are just people of flesh. That we are human. That we blow it. That we are merely dust. He makes this picture of the Father and the dust, I said He gives them a picture of God the Father in the parable – Luke 15.
At some point in time, these very good, Jewish boys who have heard all this stuff about what God is supposed to be like – it’s getting shattered.
And the one thing they can’t quite figure out is because every time, as a good, Jewish boy and the rabbis and the religious leaders, when they prayed, they would get on street corners and they had their phylacteries and they would have all their verses and they would pray out loud and do it in Hebrew.
And so, they come to Jesus, because they can’t quite get this relationship. And He says, they say, “Will You teach us to pray?” And here’s His first words, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba.’” It’s Aramaic. Say, “Abba.” The word means father, or our father. Is He transcendent? “Who is in heaven.” Who is all-knowing, who is powerful, who is Creator, who is holy. But you have access. “Abba.”
It’s interesting, when the apostle Paul, in Romans 8 and Galatians chapter 4, when he wants to talk about intimacy with God around prayer, he actually takes that Aramaic word. It has such impact. And he will say, “Abba,” and then he will say, pater, translated in Greek for people later that don’t know this.
Do you realize what He did? He said, “There is not some form.” This Father is approachable. In four countries in the Middle East right now, especially in peasant villages, the first word every child learns is: Abba. Papa. Daddy. Access. That’s…
When Jesus was hanging on the cross and He said, “It is finished,” and it says – what? “The veil in the temple that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies,”tchoo! “was ripped apart.” You have got access. The awesome, powerful, all-knowing, pure, unapproachable light, transcendent God of the universe also says, “I am your Daddy. You can come and sit on my lap. You can bring the hardest, the most difficult, your pain, and I will listen.”
I had an experience this week that, it was an interesting one. I had a friend and we were going to meet for coffee and it was near where my daughter lives and he said, “Won’t,” he knows my daughter and said, “Why don’t we give her a call?” And he really likes Noah. And so he says, “We’ll hang out with them.”
So, I called Annie and she goes, “Sure.” Came over to Starbucks and the place was just packed with people and we are on some of these high stools and so I’ve got Noah next to me and we are doing some stuff and he just is like, he’s two. And so, I can’t even remember, I was trying to keep him from falling off the stool and he turns to me and he goes, “No!” Whoa! Must be genetic on the male side.
Well, I’m thinking, he’s two. Well, two more times, “No! No!” And I’m just going, Oh, wow, this is…
Now, here’s what I did not do. Now, there was a level of embarrassment, okay? His mother had gone someplace so I’m in this moment of, “What is that guy going to do?” Here’s what I did not do. I didn’t pick up Noah, set him on the ground, take two steps back, “I’m a really big person and you’re a really small person and you better shape up right now. Shut up, kid!” See, that’s how some of you think God responds or will respond when you mess up.
How did I respond? He’s two! Okay? He’s two! You know what two-year-olds do? They do stuff like that. When you were two, you did it. He’s going to grow out of this. He’s two. You know what? I am mindful of his frame. I understand that’s part of being a two-year-old.
When you mess up, when you say stuff, when you lie, when you steal little things, when you lust in your heart, when you make a big mistake, most of us run away from God because we have a bad, wrong, warped view of God. Because we think what we are going to get is this and then this! What did I do? I dealt with things - gently.
Earlier in the week he came over to my house and this “no” stuff is sort of his new flavor of the month. So, his grandma, my wife, said a little something and to my wife, he goes, “No!” And his mom is not around now. That is not going to fly in my house. So, I got down at eye-level. I said, “Noah, we don’t talk to grandma that way.” “No!” Or me.
And then I set him on a little stool and it’s time-out. And just that tender balance, like he’s two. If you do it too long, you’ll frustrate him. If it’s not long enough, he won’t realize. So, I’m sitting there going, Okay, I think he’s getting the message. And so, after a little bit of time I said, “Okay, Noah, come here. No, come here, Noah.” He comes up. Okay. He climbs up onto my lap. Then we went over, “Noah, we don’t talk to Mommy like that. Daddy. Okay. Noah, do you know how much I love you?”
And then I didn’t say anything, I just put my arms around him and I said, Oh, God, thank You so much that when we do something wrong and we come to You, You always cleanse us and forgive us and want to be close to us. Amen.
Now, I’m not telling you that my two-year-old grandson theologically, understood much of what went on. But I am going to keep doing that and he’s going to get it. But I’ll tell you what happened that I can’t explain is that after I did that, he took his little arms and just put them around me. And after he messed up, we were close. Are you running away from God or running to Him?
And then when you run away, because there’s nowhere to go, right? So you eat or you drink or you buy stuff or you work more or you have an affair. Because, see, you run! When you run away from God, bad things happen. What if you believed?
“Come unto Me, all of you that are heavy-laden with life and stuff and pressure and difficulty and guilt and fear and I will give you rest. Take, take My yoke,” this isn’t just a prayer. This is: Let’s do life together. Let’s talk. Get to know Me. “And I’ll give rest for your soul.” Why? “Because I am gentle, lowly in heart,” humble, “and you’ll find rest for your soul.”
I’d like to close by, every year when I get near this time of year, I try and read through, I end up probably writing in two or three of these journals through the course of the year, and I try and just read them really fast to say, “Is there any patterns that God is speaking to me about that maybe for the next year, I need to address.”
And it’s interesting, I was in that journey and this is of December 4th a year ago, just barely over a year ago. And I share this because here’s what I want you to get. This journey of getting a right and accurate and clear and biblical picture of God is at the core of everything, but it is a journey.
And so, I have memorized a lot of verses to try and get my mind – I read the Bible to get my mind, I try and get around people that I think have a clear view of God. And then I try and process. And so, this was one of those mornings where I was writing my best understanding of what God is like instead of how I think about Him.
“Thank You so very much for Your grace, Lord. Your disposition, Your mood is one of joy and delight to see me, to help me. You actually enjoy my presence. In human terms, You’re in a good mood when we meet.” You ever think about that? It has taken me years to believe God is in a good mood when we meet.
“Your countenance is a smile, a warm, inviting smile of approval and welcome. Your arms are wide open and inviting me to come near, to draw close, to embrace, to be protected, to be encouraged, to be comforted. Your eyes are filled with compassion and mercy. My sins, my mistakes, my failures are met with Your longing to forgive and to remove any and all shame. You desire great things for me and great things from me, but Your expectations are reasonable. You are mindful that I am but dust, magnificent dust made in Your image, but You are patient and You are understanding with my struggles.
“When I purposefully rebel and reject Your love and Your plans and Your will for my life, You graciously and lovingly provide pain and no peace in my heart and ever-increasing consequences to prompt me to come to my senses, return to You. You don’t keep Your anger and You don’t hide Your face from me when I come with an honest and a humble and a broken spirit and a contrite heart.
“When I find myself far from You or being bombarded by the enemy or the evil in this fallen world and I am absolutely in impossible situations, Your ears strain to hear My cry for help. Your feet run to meet me in my desperate situation, even when it’s of my own making. This is what God, my Father, is like. He is not a concept or an energy or a theory of the Force.
“He is generosity in action that seeks my highest good, meets my greatest needs, and delights in me just for me, totally apart from anything I could do or have ever done. His love and grace is free, undeserved, counter-intuitive.”
That’s the disposition of the infinite Creator of the universe toward me, expressed most clearly and personally in the person and work of God the Son, Jesus Christ. He’s a Wonderful Counselor, He’s a Mighty God, and He’s an Everlasting Father.